Information Management: The Organizational Dimension

By Michael J. Earl | Go to book overview

3 Knowledge Strategies: Propositions From Two Contrasting Industries

MICHAEL J. EARL


Introduction

It has been argued by Bell ( 1979) and others that knowledge is the key resource of the post-industrial era and that telecommunications is the key technology. Employment categories have been reclassified to accommodate knowledge-working ( Porat 1977) and some analysts have argued that knowledge workers already form the dominant sector of western work forces (OECD 1981). Computer scientists are prone to suggesting that knowledge-based systems can yield abnormal returns. For example, Hayes- Roth et al. ( 1983) claim that knowledge is a scarce resource whose refinement and reproduction create wealth and, further, that knowledge-based information technology is the enabler that turns knowledge into a valuable industrial commodity. It could be argued whether knowledge is scarce, particularly as it can be created, reproduced, and shared with as much chance of multiplying value as depleting it. Indeed, economists who are concerned with allocation and distribution of scarce resources--and also who make assumptions about availability of perfect or costless information-- do recognize these unusual qualities, classifying knowledge as a public good ( Silberston 1967). What is of interest, therefore, as the information society unfolds, is whether we can learn anything about knowledge, its value, and knowledge-working from companies who are exploiting information technologies in new domains which have the character of knowledge processing.

Two case studies--Shorko Films and Skandia International,1 are used here inductively to build a set of propositions about knowledge and its management. Ex post, they can be seen as examples of firms who built knowledgebased strategies which were enabled by IT. In Skandia's case there is evidence that this was an explicit strategic intent in an information-intensive industry, namely reinsurance. In Shorko Films the strategy could be better

____________________
1
See two case studies, CRIM CS93/2 Skandia International and CRIM CS93/3 Shorko Films SA, Centre for Research in Information Management, London Business School, Sussex Place, London NW1 4SA.

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